Erica’s teenage daughter took out her phone for her daily ritual—taking photos of her outfit possibilities before school and waiting to see which one got the most likes before deciding what to wear. Erica tried to hide her exasperation. Her daughter’s obsession with social media had reached ridiculous levels. She already placed far too much value on what her peers think of her, and social media was making it worse. Ready to throw her daughter’s phone in the trash, Erica wondered how she can get her to stop relying on social media so much—especially for her self-identity.
Absurd as it may seem to us who grew up without social media, our teens have no frame of reference for life without it. So for all of us with teens engaged on social media, although it might seem “ridiculous,” we need to embrace the fact that this is a big part of their world. That doesn’t mean social media use shouldn’t be controlled (it should) or that it should drive their identity (it shouldn’t), but it does mean giving up the illusion that a teen can live a normal life without it today.
It also means recognizing that if we want to guide our teens away from relying on anything (social media included) for their self-identity, we have to enter into this part of their life, rather than trying to keep them entirely from it. We need to understand their motivations, how they use social media, who their digital friends are, and what they think about it all. And the good news is that, statistically, our teens probably want us to!
Let’s see what the research says.
Take an active interest in your teen’s social media activity.
According to my For Parents Only research with middle school and high school kids, our kids want us to make the effort to understand their life and their world, and be a part it. It sends the message that we care enough about our child and who he or she really is (rather than who we might want them to be) that we’re willing to step into a social environment that may not come naturally, in order to better understand them. It sends the message that they can trust us.
So instead of giving your “disapproving” glance whenever your teen checks their Instagram comments, ask about them. I assume you’re already checking their phone, social media use, and texts (hint, hint), so the next time you take a look and hand back their phone, ask open-ended questions to show your interest. “Who comments the most on what you post?” “What do you think about what Paige said?” “Read me some of your favorite posts!”
Ask meaningful questions that lead to deep discussions.
This involvement will almost certainly lead to more meaningful questions that give you windows of opportunity for guidance. “What do you think, when you see that Jamie has 300 followers and you have 67?” “Do any of your friends just not care whether anyone comments on their posts? Why do you think they are free of the need for that approval?” Casual questions with deep opportunities. Erica could open up a conversation with her daughter by asking: “Do you ever wear an outfit that got voted down just because you liked it best?”
A woman business leader that I know tells the people who work for her, “I can’t grow you unless I know you”—and the same principle applies to you as a parent. You can’t grow your child, and help them avoid the temptations to rely on friends and approval for self-worth, if you know very little about a huge part of their life.
Share key truths with your teen about their identity and self-worth.
As you get know your teen better and better, you’ll know best how to share some key truths in a way they’ll accept—like the fact that although it’s natural to seek affirmation in the affection or praise of others, it is only in knowing that we are God’s children, created in His image, richly loved in spite of our flaws, that we find true affirmation. That acceptance is something we can’t get from anything or anyone else!
By engaging in meaningful conversations, you can help your teen see that relying on social media likes and comments for happiness is a road to heartbreak. And as they begin to understand more and more how much you care about them, and that they can trust you—they’ll be far more inclined to listen.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.